Nanoforce has assisted in the development of a wide range of commercial products.
FormFormForm is a vibrant SME based in East London. Its main technology (Formarol) is a room temperature vulcanizing silicone rubber, which is specially formulated for handle-ability and cure kinetics. Sugru® is the first commercial product based on this technology. It resembles modelling clay but sticks to almost anything and dries to a tough, rubbery finish. It allows single users to personalise, fix and modifying objects, devises or goods. Over 285,000 people in 138 countries are currently using it to make their stuff work better, or as the company puts it, Sugru ‘Hacks things better’.
In 2008, Nanoforce was asked to assist in the development of Sugru because of our expertise in polymers and rubbers. Supported by a TSB Feasibility Award, Nanoforce helped to create the silicone material that would be sticky but would also cure at room temperature. It provided advice on optimal processing and production methods, and the formulation of the current materials is a direct result of work performed in the Nanoforce labs.
In November 2009, FormFormForm started to produce a small batch of products. These first 1,000 packets of Sugru, which took a month to make, sold out in six hours to customers in 21 countries and where an instant hit. In 2010 TIME Magazine listed Sugru alongside the iPad as one of the top 50 inventions of that year, and in 2012 FormFormForm’s CEO, Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh won the ‘London Design Entrepreneur Award’. Currently Sugru is receiving massive attention by different media, particularly social media, thus bypassing traditional routes to market.
Nanoforce involvement in the development of Sugru had direct economic impact through increased sales and jobs created with FormFormForm. It had sales of $1 million in 2011 and doubled that figure in 2012. It opened an office in America in 2011, the firm’s biggest single market.
Zelfo is a materials system that is based entirely on nanofibrillated cellulose fibres, where fibres mechanically interlock and self-bind via hydrogen bonding. Hence, no further additives or resins are required to promote fibre bonding, resulting in a sustainable and recyclable bio-based alternative to ones using synthetic resin systems, such as wood fibre plastic (WFP) or medium density fibre board (MDF).
Zelfo was initially developed and patented by Zellform GmbH (Austria) in the 1990s. However, it needed a collaborative R&D program funded by the DTI (REFLECT, 2007-2010), involving Nanoforce, InterfaceFLOR, Omodo (the original patent holders), and other industrial partners to successfully industrialize the concept. Within this collaborative project, our expertise in cellulose and nanocellulose led to optimized environmentally friendly processing schemes for Zelfo panels. Minimizing energy and resources (water/fibre), upcycling of cellulose waste streams, and shrinkage of the material while drying were issues that were tackled. Significant environmental impact was achieved through the successful development of a number of mixed fibre products which utilised cellulose waste and recycled paper.
In 2011, Zelfo Technology GmbH was created to commercialise the technology, and with a view to accelerate industry take up an IP technology transfer to BASF (Germany) took place in 2013, while in the same year Interface Inc., a world leader in sustainability, also acquired a shareholding of the company.
In September 2012, Zelfo Technology and House of Hemp (South Africa) formed a manufacturing alliance to up-cycle cellulose waste to produce binder-free, formaldehyde free, products for the building industry in South Africa. The plant will produce a range of products to serve the building market. Zelfo has been awarded a number of prestigious prizes.
In February 2011, Zelfo Technology won two prestigious ‘Rushlight Awards’ for environmentally responsible products. In March 2011 Zelfo was voted ‘Biomaterial of the year 2011’ by the Nova Institute. In April 2012, Niche Snowboards (featuring Zelfo) was awarded the ISPO (leading sports business network in Munich, Germany) ‘Eco Snowsport Product of the year’ for their freestyle snowboard models.
Composites Evolution is a SME that since 2010 provides innovative, sustainable materials to the composites industry. The Biotex range now being commercialised by Composites Evolution are a direct result of materials developed through the DTI project COMBINE (2007-2010), together with project partners like Netcomposites, Springdale Natural Products, John L Brierley, Sam Weller and Sons, and Tilsatec.
The Biotex family includes a range of high-performance natural reinforcement yarns, fabrics (woven and non-crimp) and preconsolidated sheets suitable for composite applications. Standard grades include pure jute and flax fabrics, flax/PP, and flax/PLA commingled fabrics. Compared to traditional natural fibre reinforced plastics based on non-wovens these materials provide improved performance, easy processing and weight savings.
They are suitable for semi-structural and decorative applications in sectors such as automotive, construction, marine, sports and consumer goods. Biotex uses a unique Twistless Technology to ensure a high degree of fibre alignment, impregnation and performance.
The widespread use of these materials can have significant environmental impact as these materials can save weight, and are based on renewable resources. The research had direct economic impact as Composites Evolution currently employs five fulltime employees. Its turnover in 2012 was £150,000 and has doubled annually since its start in 2010, and is projected to sustain this growth for the coming years.
Automotive parts based on Biotex evaluated by a whole range of car manufacturers and have been approved by Jaguar Land Rover for their next generation vehicles. The material has been successfully introduced in the sports and leisure market including snowboards by Canadian producer Magine, skis and canoes, often for its superior vibrational damping characteristics. Other markets under development are in furniture and consumer electronics such as laptop and smartphone cases.
Nanoforce set up the first spark plasma sintering (SPS) furnace in the UK in 2006. It has been promoting the development and commercialisation of the SPS technology by working with several companies in the fields of thermoelectrics, ferroelectrics and structural ceramics and composites.
Kennametal Sintec Ltd in South Wales, opened the first commercial SPS in the UK as an outcome of working with Nanoforce and Dstl to establish a UK on-shore capability to produce advanced ceramic armour, which involved a £2m joint investment by Kennametal and Dstl.
From top to bottom, left to right: Sugru® a new self-setting rubber for fixing, modifying and improving stuff; Panel products made from Zelfo® based on 100% renewable or recycled cellulose fibres; Biotex™ natural reinforcement yarns, fabrics, preconsolidated sheets and Magine’s snowboard; and SPS technology for the development of Kennametal’s ceramic armour.